A series of small failures


Saying goodbye to the church
March 16, 2009, 2:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My final letter from the Mormon church finally arrived. Dated March 11, 2009, more than four months since I resigned (http://aseriesofsmallfailures.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/heres-my-letter/), it reads:

“This letter is to notify you that, in accordance with your request, your name has been removed from the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Should you desire to become a member of the Church in the future, the local bishop or branch president in your area will be happy to help you.”

Signed by Gregory Dodge, manager of member and statistical records for the Mormon Church, the letter is not what I expected. Emotionless, void of pomposity, matter of fact. It doesn’t beg or plead like the last letter, complete with the Jesus pamphlet inviting me to come back. This really felt like the form letter that it is.

Who is this Mr. Dodge? I imagine him sighing as he signs, pauses, and moves on to the next letter. I imagine his desk crowded with neat stacks of these form letters he must sign and send.  I wonder what kind of statistical information he compiles in his office in the church headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City. What’s his office like? Does he have a view of the mountains or the temple? I hope by now, after years at this job (i think at least a decade) he isn’t in an interior windowless room. What is it like to receive thousands of letters from disaffected people whose hearts have been broken by an organization they devoted part of their lives to? Is he saddened? Or is he desensitized, like anyone who routinely passes homeless people on the street who has trained himself not to see them anymore?

I’ve had it relatively easy. I didn’t get visits or phone calls from ecclesiastical leaders. It was irritating to hear in the first letter that they didn’t honor my resignation, and that they expected me to talk to my bishop instead. I ignored that letter and waited. And waited.  It just took longer than I anticipated. Four months and seven days, to be exact. Technically, since I resigned, it shouldn’t matter what they did then, how they responded, what they said, or how they said it. But to me, the whole point of this exercise was to make whatever effort necessary to make this split official. I wanted that letter.

My initial reaction was not the elation I felt when I mailed my resignation letter. As I opened it, my heart sank. I sat there and looked at Mr. Dodge’s form letter. I read it again. Then I noticed that they had addressed me as “Sister Mardesich.”  I smirked, and felt a little better for a second. That salutation was a symbol of the disconnect. Was it an attempt at familiarity, or was it just an archaic formality? No one has called me Sister in a long time. But this was nothing to smirk about. It was a final decree, like a divorce. But as in a divorce, the piece of paper declaring it’s over doesn’t make it over. It’s up to me to make it really over.

I’ve had years to mourn this split. And I’ve been through all the stages of grief, with extra long paralyzing stays in the anger and depression phases. So why was I sad? Because of the rift my leaving has caused within my family? Because Proposition 8 has not been repealed? Because I’m not done with it yet?

I so want to be. I am done with the self-hatred, the anger and the grief. The negativity! So counterproductive.

My life as a Mormon was full of activity, service, study of Mormon scripture and literature, and love. But it was also full of  judgment, fear, and self-recrimination. I’d like to take the good bits of my Mormon life and fuse them with my new life.  Thanks to Facebook, I’ve reconnected with dozens of friends from that period of my life. And my being me — answering the basic question, “what are you doing?” on Twitter and Facebook has caused some discomfort. Last night I got into a Facebook chat with an old friend. This is exactly how it went:

old friend:

So how long will you be venting your spleen against the church?

Jodi

what spleen? i just said i did it

old friend:

You don’t see the ad hominem attack nature of your comments?

Jodi

nope

but i assumed that people might be offended, hence the four agreements comment: “don’t take anything personally”

old friend:

That’s entirely unfair.

You can’t make such comments and then ask to be shileded from other reactions.

Jodi

i didn’t ask to be shielded.

i am saying to you, and anyone else, that it’s not about you.

i made this choice for myself

old friend:

Don’t take it personally when you go after what is the essence of many of your closest friends lives??

It’s not about your choice, it is about the additional attack.

Jodi

i am done going after it. i am simply done. there is no attack

the “i think they have been busy” was perhaps editorial

but all i said was that i got a letter, and it took four months.

old friend:

not editorial and you damn well know it. an ad hominem dig.

You going to keep ‘em up?

Jodi

you might want to look at what you are reading into it

keep what up?

old friend:

ok, never mind. my imagination.

Jodi

i was just [enjoying a gift made by this friend] and thinking fondly of you.

i am sorry that you are upset by my actions. or my words

He stopped chatting then. I love this friend. But can you see what I’m dealing with here? This exchange was in response to a Facebook update i posted that said:

“i returned home to utah and found a letter from the Mormon church. It took four months for them to process my resignation. i think they have been busy”

My next facebook update was a reminder of one of the Four Agreements, Don Miguel De Ruiz’s code of behavior. Number one: be impeccable with your word. Number two, the one that I quoted: don’t take anything personally.

I knew some people would take this personally. Mormons love the martyr/victim role. They were victimized for their beliefs, chased from town after town as they moved west across the states and finally settled in what became Utah. It’s a role that comes naturally to many of them. I know it all too well. Dealing with my repressed abuse memories has helped me to let go of the victim role. Also, leaving the church helped a lot.

But really, how does my decision affect them? I’m not judging them. I’m simply making a choice about my life.

And it’s so much more than that. By letting go of the old, I’m making room for the new. For the first decade after i left, I shunned any form of spirituality. I distrusted organizations of any kind, especially religious ones. So I knew what I wasn’t, but I didn’t really know what I was. Or what I was becoming.

By letting go of the incessant scripture study (over and over and over–I read the Book of Mormon 6 times on my mission alone), I’ve been able to read and study new ideas.  By not spending all my energy playing the piano in church or teaching sunday school, I’ve been able to serve in other ways (volunteering at the sundance film festival for two weeks, and at the Ann Wigmore Institute for three years).

I love what my life is becoming. It really seems like another lifetime that I was mormon. I am done resenting what I used to refer to as “wasted time” I spent in that religion. I am the sum of all my experiences, and mormonism was a big one. Time to move on.

Here’s a bittersweet song that captures some of the beauty and angst of my church divorce:

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah


8 Comments so far
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I found your blog during the Prop. 8 campaigning of last year and your story on Slate (I think it was Slate) you inspired me to write my own resignation letter to the LDS church and go through the process of leaving the church. When the local bishop here called (I’d never met him) I went in and talked with him.

The strangest thing that came out of the meeting was his bemused question (after I told him of my atheist leanings), “but, what makes you happy?” It was my turn to be stunned at his ignorance and naivitae. I explained I had friends and family I loved and loved me as well as fulfilling work. I then hinted that perhaps this was all he had too, but that’d he’d just imagined someone overlooking all of it. He seemed to still be shocked when I left.

I received my letter, just like yours, a couple of weeks ago and besides being struck by the shortness and clinical tone to it there was nothing else. I’d long ago left the LDS Church in everything but name. I’d gone through being angry with what happened on my mission and the feelings of betrayal by my friends and family in the church, I’d moved on. The letter sounded as if the church had too.

Which I’m okay with I’ve never been happier in my life. Despite the ‘sinful’ life I am so very much enjoying now. Thanks for being an example and inspiring me.

Comment by Jonathon Howard

Ah…you know how I feel. At least Old Friend cares about your choices and wants to discuss. I hope you are getting at least a balance of support to all that negativity?

I love communicating with you and chatting about this process. I value and embrace how you express where you are.

And…I watched Religulous last night. Which is a fascinating movie, if a bit too “Starring Bill Maher” to be the movie it might be. (Meaning, I think it’s supposed to generally be about the impact of religion on society and an overall, potential downward trend toward global self-destruction due to deep-seated, wide-spread belief in impending Armageddon. Whew!)

It was worth the potential sleep-time I spent on it to help me in my current process of closing the door on that world at last.

Also? It shows garments.

Comment by rebekah

i love you. all of you. everything that makes you the beautiful and amazing person that you are.

love.

Comment by nakedjen

Congratulations on following through on something important to you. I’m not surprised your old friend felt personally attacked by your decision. Isn’t it the nature of an absolutist belief that the only ok way to be is in 100% agreement with them?

Of course folks who have absolutist beliefs all believe theirs is the sole truth about God. Which is, in my opinion, why it’s easier for them to focus on gay people than each other. Because they’d have the same conflict with each other…all those different “absolute” beliefs.

Really well written post Jode. Honest. That gives it power.

Comment by heather

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for siding with equality.

Comment by queerunity

Jodi, I’m sure you don’t remember me but I was a pretty close friend of Ted’s back in high school. Long story but I’m living in Japan—have been here for almost 23 years.

First, you write exceptionally well. I only today found your blog, and am very much enjoying your thoughts. In particular I appreciate your comments on the whole Prop 8 mess. Wow, that was surreal and passage of that crap sure was misguided. Part of the reason why I moved abroad so long ago was the stifling I felt regarding civil liberties. Things have become much much better in the States since the 1980s, but sadly there are still freer places for me to live the way I want to.

Your thoughts on the Mormon church are also interesting to me. I would love to resign from the Jewish faith (don’t believe in any religions) but I don’t think it’s possible. Jews would tell me it’s a race thing, and you don’t simply resign. Hahahah.

Actually, it was your family and a few others back where we grew up in Calif that gave me my first introduction to the Mormon faith. I remember your mom in particular was quite patient with all my idiotic questions, and she spent some time and energy filling me in. Until this Prop 8 episode which I found quite distateful, I have to say I considered the Mormon church to be a positive community and benign.

Hard to explain…

I don’t know how to contact Ted. I would of course like to give him my condolences regarding the loss of Cooper and also to catch up. If you see this message from me, please do let him know I can be found at jason_kendy at ml dot com.

PS. In another post on your site you mentioned Burning Man. I have no idea why but I recently have been thinking about doing it! Am I entirely nuts?

Comment by Jason in Tokyo

WOW! What an interesting blog post. You were very courageous. I think it is very important to be true to yourself and find absolute truth to form your beliefs! I’m sure it will take some healing still but its great to take this step in your life!

Comment by vintagemixer

hey vintagemixer, i love your blog. i need to write more about food. :-) thanks for the kind words. it’s amazing how writing things down can help… i have let go of a lot… and i feel so much better. i don’t feel brave. I do feel honest. xo

Comment by jodimardesich




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